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An Interview with Meg Mitchell Moore

May 24, 2012

Meg Mitchell Moore has cranked things up a notch with her second book So Far Away. It’s the story of Natalie, a wayward thirteen-year-old, who is the victim of cyberbullying.  Moore deftly weaves in the life of archivist Kathleen Lynch who has her own problems, and the diary of an Irish maid who lived in the 1920s. So Far Away is a moving story full of grief, loss, and the comfort one finds in unexpected places. I talked to Meg last week about So Far Away, writing, and secret crushes.

DP – In your first book, The Arrivals, you really hit the ground running with an up-close peek into the trials and tribulations of a couple whose grown children descend on their parents’ home for the summer. In your second, So Far Away, I can see you’ve dug deep to create even more complexity and depth in the characters. What did you learn from writing the first book that influenced how you tackled it? Did getting the first book published, give you more confidence?

MMM – Thank you! I think having a book accepted for publication gave me more confidence, though I had completed most of the drafts of So Far Away by the time The Arrivals was published. Knowing I had an agent and an editor in place to give me feedback on early drafts was enormously helpful the second time around. One of my temptations when writing is always to include many (some would say too many!) points of view. I had taken several extraneous voices out of The Arrivals, and I really reigned it in from the beginning in So Far Away; I wouldn’t let myself include more than the three main characters. That allowed me to go deeper into each of them. In my work in progress, I have only two. Who knows – maybe someday I’ll get to a single narrator!

DP – So Far Away tackles the issue of cyberbullying which is very relevant today. Why did you decide to make it one of the major themes in your book?

MMM – When I first proposed the book to my editor, I had the 13-year-old character  and I knew she was struggling with something, but at first it was merely her parents’ separation. I really wanted to up the stakes for her, and cyberbullying was and is so much in the news that I started thinking about how terrifying that would be for a young girl. The more I read about it, the more I knew I wanted to explore those fears.

DP – Have you known anyone who was a victim of cyberbullying? Why do you think bullying, which we all experienced as kids to some extent, is different and more potent now?

MMM – Not personally, no. But I am very aware of the topic. I have three young daughters, and I think a lot about challenges they might face as they grow older. Using technology to bully is such a scary thing because perpetrators can be anonymous if they want to be. When people can be anonymous, they can be extra cruel. And it is so easy to spread anything — rumors, photographs, taunts — with technology. It is very easy for a victim to feel completely helpless.

DP – I was especially intrigued with the back story of the archivist. How did that element come about? Have you researched your own family history?

MMM – That’s really where the story started for me. Before I had even found an agent for The Arrivals, I was working on a  short nonfiction piece about genealogical research. I contacted the Massachusetts Archives to get some information and the woman I talked to there, Janis Duffy, became a key source for me when I wrote the book. When I first talked to her for the article I thought, “That’s a really interesting job!” and I tucked that away in my mind. I brought it back out when it was time to pitch the second novel. I visited the Archives two or three times during the writing of the book and stayed in touch with Janis. She read early drafts for me and advised me; she was my genealogical angel! I have never researched my family history. Someday I might. I wonder if my family has a secret as juicy as Bridget’s?

DP – Family issues are the dominant theme in your books. There are children everywhere. Would you say that’s carried over from your own life? How did your own upbringing inform what you write about?

MMM – That’s a really interesting question. Certainly themes from The Arrivals were carried over from my life; I wrote much of that book when my youngest daughter was one, still really a baby, and all of those mothering themes were on my mind. I sometimes think of So Far Away as the anti-Arrivals. In the first book, the characters who were suffering sought solace in their family. In the second book, everyone has to look elsewhere for solace because they don’t find it at home. As for upbringing, I bet I won’t be able to see those influences on my writing for a long time…I think all of that becomes clearer in retrospect.

DP – How did you come up with the title?

MMM – Oh boy. This title went through so many meetings I have lost count. I started with the title Solace and the publisher first said, “No, too quiet.” We went around and around through a million other titles and came back to Solace only to find that another book had recently been published with that name. So So Far Away came into being. The funny thing is that in the Publisher’s Weekly review of the book, “solace” is the first word of the first sentence.

DP – You were a journalist. What made you decide to become a novelist? Did you study creative writing?

I always had the novelist lying in wait, it just took me a while to get to it. I don’t have an MFA; I have taken classes here and there, but I did my graduate work in English Lit. I think I learned more from reading a lot than from anything else. Sometimes I wish I’d gotten to the fiction sooner, but I think the background in journalism and literary criticism have added a few items to my toolkit. I don’t miss deadlines. I almost always hit a requested word count. And I really like being edited.

DP – With three children, how do you possibly have time to write? What’s your writing schedule like?

Let’s see. How do I have time? I have less time than I’d like, but who doesn’t? I write only when my kids are in school, period. I get up really early to get done what I can (exercise, etc.) before everyone else is up so I can preserve my writing time. I do not go out for lunch with friends very often, or socialize during the school day. I do not volunteer at my kids’ schools nearly as often as some of the other parents do. I fold laundry really quickly, and only at night. In general, I am pretty disciplined, but time is always a struggle.

DP – What authors have influenced your writing?

MMM – Alice Munro, Ann Patchett, Elizabeth Strout, Ian McEwan, Claire Messud, Kate Atkinson, many many others.

DP – What books are on your bedside now?

MMM – The second in The Hunger Game series, The Lifeboat, and Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?

DP – What’s your next book about?

MMM – It’s about the daughter of a lobsterman who returns to the town she thought she escaped when her father’s boat goes missing.

DP – What are you listening to on your iPod right now?

MMM – First season of Downton Abbey. Lots of Josh Ritter, Ray LaMontagne, some top 40 stuff for running, plus lots of episodes of NPR’s Fresh Air.

DP – Is it true you have a secret crush on Josh Ritter?

MMM – That’s no secret! Please let him know.

Reagan Arthur Books, 2012

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